In the 1997 Disney film Hercules, there’s a training montage set to the song “Zero To Hero“, showing how quickly Hercules went from a nobody to a full-fledged hero. Last night, a couple of Cardinal bullpen stalwarts reversed the script, starting out at the highs and quickly hitting the depths. The biggest problem was, one of those was the last pitcher standing, meaning the Reds were able to walk off with an improbable 7-5 win.
First, there was Kevin Siegrist. Zach Duke made his Cardinal debut in the sixth inning and it wasn’t exactly what you wanted from a guy that was the only acquisition at the trade deadline. Duke retired Brandon Phillips, then allowed a single to Scott Schebler (more on him in a bit). He struck out Eugenio Suarez, but then issued back to back walks to load the bases. Mike Matheny then went to the pen and got Siegrist, who struck out Billy Hamilton (on a 3-2 pitch) to end the threat. Looks like a Hero to me.
The problem was, he went back out there for the seventh. That in and of itself isn’t a problem, don’t get me wrong. Matheny did his patented double-switch moves (a number of them in this game, which led to an issue later on, but we’ll look at those in a bit) and Siegrist should have been able to get more than one batter. The Cardinals had taken the lead in the meantime, so Siegrist was even in position to get a win. Sounds like a plan, just one that Siegrist couldn’t follow. After a groundout, Joey Votto–who apparently is figuring Siegrist out; he was 0-10 against the Cardinal hurler before June, when he hit a game-winning homer off of him–singled and Adam Duvall did the longball honors. From nails to nailed in the span of four batters. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the last time we saw something like that.
Which brings us to our actual Goat of the game, Seung-hwan Oh. When Jonathan Broxton had nothing, walking the first two batters he faced and then watching Matt Adams throw away a sacrifice bunt attempt, loading the bases with nobody out, Matheny went to his closer in the eighth inning. That’s not something that Matheny would have done even last year, I don’t think, and hearing after the game that a number of pitchers are dealing with illness might have had something to do with it, but it was absolutely the right call. The Cardinals had retaken the lead in the top of the eighth and this was their best chance of getting out of it. Six pitches later, Oh had struck out Hamilton and gotten Ivan De Jesus to ground into a double play. That is what you want to see out of your closer and there’s not much higher high than that for a reliever.
Only twice this season has Oh been asked to get six outs. (Five times he’s gone more than an inning, though the other three were just 1.1 outings.) Every other time Oh has had to come back out for another frame, he’s been fine. Never allowed a run. There was no reason to think that anything other than that would happen here. And yet, it did. Singles by Votto and Duvall and, after retiring Phillips on a pop fly, a three-run, game-ending, soul-crushing home run by Schebler. From the high to the low to the end of the show.
Of course, the Twitter conflagration that followed was exacerbated by the fact that, due to the numerous double switches, Oh wound up batting with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. Given that as someone pointed out the Asian leagues use the DH as well and that this could have been Oh’s first at bat since high school, it’s not a terrible surprise that he didn’t present much of a threat. The Cardinals had Seth Maness and Jerome Williams still available, and while nobody would want to see Williams, especially in Cincinnati, Maness has been extremely effective since returning from the disabled list. There’s an argument for pinch-hitting there and letting Maness try to get the last three outs, hopefully with more than a run to play with. That said, there were tough hitters in Votto and Duvall coming up, so it’s not like it was the bottom of the order Maness would have had to deal with. Plus, the only hitter available was Alberto Rosario, and that’s not a significant upgrade in your chances to drive in a run.
So I understand why Matheny stuck with Oh and I think it was the right choice, but like I said on Twitter, this kind of situation seems to always come back and bite the Cardinals. Usually Matheny’s had more options and chosen to stick with the pitcher, but even so, it made things turn into a hold-your-breath ninth. We just didn’t have to hold it very long.
Let’s look a little at the double switches that led to this coming to be. The first one came in the sixth when Siegrist was brought in. Greg Garcia came into the game and replaced Jhonny Peralta, so the pitcher’s spot was now fifth. Given that the game was tied, you wanted to use Siegrist for more than one hitter, and he would have hit third in the seventh, that made sense. It’s a little surprising that Matheny chose to take out Peralta, who was 1-3 at that point, rather than Matt Holliday, but given Peralta was just coming back from injury plus was further down in the lineup (thus allowing you to have a bigger seventh before needing to decide on Siegrist), that made sense.
The second one came in the eighth, when Broxton came in. Holliday went out then, as is his wont late in close games, and so Broxton was hitting third. This was actually a bit of a delayed double switch because Tommy Pham had hit in the top of the eighth for Matt Bowman, smashing the tie-breaking home run, and stayed in the game. Given you typically want Holliday out and Pham improved your defense, that one checks out as well.
The last came later on in the eighth. When Oh came into the game, Matheny also moved Brandon Moss (who, before I forget, gets to be the Hero for three hits, including the tying homer) from left field, replacing Adams, with Jeremy Hazelbaker coming into play left. I’m guessing that was a defensive move, but this one seems a little less necessary to me. That said, even if Matheny doesn’t make this one, Oh comes up with two on and two outs in the ninth, which probably doesn’t make any difference in the game nor in the angst involved.
You could argue that Matheny shouldn’t have gone with Broxton, which is a more defensible point. Given recent history, Maness might have been a better choice to start the eighth. Broxton has a 4.50 ERA since the break (not counting last night, when he was bailed out) but he’s also had four of seven outings where he didn’t give up a run nor allow an inherited runner to score. He’s not rock solid and last night was higher leverage than he probably should be in, but it wasn’t crazy to think he could get the job done.
Perhaps Maness is one of the guys dealing with sickness. That would explain the hesitancy to use him. We also found out after the game that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons has been dealing with a knee issue that turned out to be bad enough that he was placed on the disabled list after the game. Which meant they weren’t going to use him in the eighth either. (Lyons has been dealing with this issue for a while, apparently, which would seem to explain why Jaime Garcia and not Lyons went in Saturday’s game against the Marlins. While Lyons did come into that game, there were probably enough concerns about his knee holding up not to want to start him and given he gave up runs in the 2/3rds of an inning he did pitch, those concerns seem valid.)
Of course, if Adam Wainwright goes more than five innings, some of these discussions aren’t happening. It was nice that he hit a home run of his own, tying the game at 1, but it still wasn’t what we really expect from the ace. When you walk Hamilton to start the game, that’s probably an indication things aren’t going to be great. (That’s probably not fair–Wainwright has often settled in after a bumpy first.) Overall, the results were fine, he just wasn’t very efficient. That led to the domino effect that we’ve talked about above. If Wainwright even goes six innings, you have more options for the last three.
Before last night, Schelber was hitting .188 and had just returned from the minor leagues after the Reds had traded off Jay Bruce at the deadline. Apparently he learned something down in Louisville because the Cardinals couldn’t get him out at all. Which may be the most frustrating thing of the night. If you could retire a guy hitting around .200, the result would be different. Instead, he went 3-5.
Besides Moss, kudos to Pham for his big home run, Jedd Gyorko for continuing his power surge, and Yadier Molina for continuing his hitting streak. The offense battled and scrapped last night to try to get that win, they just got betrayed by another bullpen failure.
It’s games like last night that make it hard for me to get on the happy bandwagon Kevin Reynolds was trying to drum up. These are games that the Cardinals have to win but they have this terrible penchant for not being able to do just that. They’ve lost 2.5 games to the Cubs in the last three days and now sit 9 games out of the division lead. Which, fine, we had pretty much written off the division anyway, even though they were getting tantalizingly close last week to being within shouting distance. The good thing is those Cub wins have come against the Marlins, so they’ve actually gained 1/2 game on them in August. The playoffs aren’t out of reach at all and this whole season would be worth it if they knocked the Cubs out in the first round, don’t you think? Still, it’s a worrisome thing being a Cardinal fan these days.
Michael Wacha is in line to go tonight against the Reds. Given Wacha’s up and down season, you have to at least hope he can match the six innings he’s had the last two starts. While the flip side of Lyons’s DL transaction hasn’t been announced (and you’d have to believe it’s just the return of Dean Kiekhafer unless the club believes it’s time to shake things up and go ahead with Alex Reyes, which I’d put about a 5% chance on), the bullpen is going to be thin again tonight and they’ll need to the starter to go as deep as he can go. At least he’s had some success against the Reds hitters.
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Cody Reed will be the Reds pitcher. He’s never faced the Cardinals, which sometimes can be problematic. He’s 0-5 with a 7.07 ERA and a WHIP that’s closing in on two batters an inning. He just gave up six runs (five earned) in San Francisco, which tends to help out pitchers. He’s only had seven games in the big leagues and, unless you count giving up just two unearned runs in six innings to the Braves, hasn’t had a good outing yet. If the Cardinals don’t win tonight, it well may be the most frustrating loss of the season, which is a bar that is really, really high.
Let’s just hope we don’t have another wild one. Twitter might spontaneously combust.